Woodland Cemetery

Richmond’s East End Burial Association had begun under the name of the Greenwood Memorial Association in 1891. Led by William M. T. Forrester, who also served as secretary of the Independent Order of St. Luke, the Greenwood group purchased thirty acres of farmland known as the “Hedge Plain” on the northern edge of the city. The site was not far from the Barton Heights cemeteries then under threat by surrounding developers. At the Hedge Plain, white landowners promptly brought suit against Greenwood and were able to close the fledgling cemetery down. So Greenwood’s directors turned their strategy toward the east end, where their compatriots in the Evergreen association had found success.

But as Evergreen and East End Cemeteries flourished in the early twentieth century, local black entrepreneurs returned their focus to the original Hedge Plain site. Led by Richmond Planet editor John Mitchell, Jr. as president, the Woodland Cemetery Corporation was able to acquire those grounds on Magnolia Road near the Mechanicsville Turnpike for its purposes in 1917. It was facilitated by the Repton Land Corporation, an entity run by Mitchell for various real estate enterprises. Newspaper advertisements touted the convenience of the cemetery’s location, as “the Most Remarkable Tract of Land ever set apart for our people in the State.” The cemetery’s radial design paid tribute to African American leaders, with circles named after Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington at its heart, and John Jasper Road bisecting it north and south. Local contractor William R. Mason built an impressive front entrance with granite pillars and an iron gate.

By the late 1920s, bank failures and the onset of the Great Depression disrupted the corporation’s finances, but the cemetery remained popular among the black elite. A series of sales left it in the hands of the UK Corporation by 1973, under the same ownership as that of Evergreen Cemetery. By that point, time and vandalism had taken their toll. Today Woodland Cemetery is valued at $500 on the county’s tax rolls, and the cemetery is listed as “full.” Little maintenance is being done, but families still continue to visit the site to take care of individual plots.

Arthur Ashe grave at Woodland Cemetery, Richmond
VCU students at the Arthur Ashe grave at Woodland Cemetery

For more information, see:

Veronica Davis, Here I Lay My Burdens Down: A History of the Black Cemeteries of Richmond, Virginia (Richmond: Dietz Press, 2003)

Find A Grave: Woodland Cemetery